ABL Wild Card: Who moves on? Who goes home?
23 January 2019
Canberra head south for the ABL’s first ever Wild Card game, a one-and-done affair where the winner flies to Brisbane for a Semi-Final series against the Bandits and the loser trundles off mournfully into the horizon.
Both sides had their chances to avoid being in this sudden death scenario. Canberra went 6-10 to start the year before making a late run up the standings. The Cavalry will have quietly rued their 0-4 Round One against Melbourne and a 4-4 season split with newcomers Auckland as well.
Auckland ruined everything for Melbourne, too. Coming into Round Ten the Aces were in the box seat to secure a home Semi-Final but blew it when Auckland upset them 3-1 at Melbourne Ballpark for their first ever ABL series win.
On paper it’s a difficult matchup to predict and with its sudden death nature there will be no tolerance from managers Jon Deeble and Keith Ward if pitchers can’t find their rhythm and zones quickly.
Let’s take a look at what faces us.
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MELBOURNE ACES versus CANBERRA CAVALRY (Melbourne Ballpark)
Wednesday 7.30 pm Melbourne time (Forecast weather: 25, humid, partly cloudy)
LAST TIME: ROUND 1
A game one pitcher’s duel between Steve Kent and Luke Westphal was followed by an Aces routing of Canberra. Melbourne took the weekend 4-0, outscored Canberra 21-5 and made the Cavs offence look anaemic at best, keeping them to .168 hitting across the four games.
Steve Kent’s absence is a massive blow to Canberra, but there’s a more than capable replacement. Frank Gailey gets the start and as we saw in his club’s run to the ABLCS last season, he can handle a big game.
Gailey got taken to the cleaners by the Aces in round one, going for seven earned runs from nine hits in 5.2 innings and 97 pitches. It wasn’t the most auspicious start to a season but since then (with the exception of one outing against the Bandits) Gailey has been outstanding in compiling a 5-2 win-loss record with 61 strikeouts.
Dushan Ruzic (5-2, 2.82 ERA) will surely take to the mound at some point for the Aces. He’s been a model of consistency and reliability for Jon Deeble in a season where Melbourne has used 20 pitchers to varying degrees of success. Ruzic can carry a heavy load for the Aces, but he’ll need a lot more run support from his offense.
Michael Crouse quietly snuck back into the ABL in round eight and since then has been dominant for Canberra, hitting .429 with an on-base percentage of .500. In his 12 games he’s got four home runs and 11 runs batted in, most of them at very important times. He adds even more class to a quality Cavs hitting lineup and is a huge danger for his old Melbourne team mates.
Luke Hughes is understood to be carrying a hamstring injury of an undisclosed severity but there’s no way he’ll pass up the chance to get into the Cavalry once more. He’s hitting at .309 with 34 runs batted in (14 clear of Melbourne’s next best) and he’s hit 10 of Melbourne’s 34 homeruns. His quality is undeniable but his capacity is what remains to be seen. If he can’t get up for this game the Aces are in strife.
PREDICTION: CANBERRA WINS
Both teams have new looks since that Round One sweep as roster attrition and callbacks impact the clubs. Melbourne lost their Japanese imports from the Seibu Lions, who all excelled against this opponent in round one. Canberra have now farewelled their Japanese contingent from the Yokohama Baystars including Tomoya Mikami, who led the team with six saves.
Canberra’s bullpen still has quality but there will be much more asked of Zach Lemond (1-1, 1.89 ERA), regular starter Steve Chambers (2-2, 6.31 ERA), J.R. Bunda (0-2, 4.29 ERA) and former big leaguer Madison Younginer (0-1, 4.76 ERA) should Melbourne’s bats get going early.
Melbourne have had longer to adjust to missing quality arms from the pitching staff and with the late season addition of Josh Tols (1-0, 1.13 ERA) have a solid crew to choose from including Jon Kennedy (2-2, 5.00 ERA), Luke Westphal (2-3, 3.70 ERA) and the excellent Dan McGrath (0-1, 0.00 ERA).
I’m leaning to Canberra because their lineup featuring Zach Wilson, David Kandilas, Mike Fransoso, Robbie and Kyle Perkins and the aforementioned Crouse have shown a lot more at the plate than Melbourne’s nine outside of Hughes, Kansas City Royals prospect DJ Burt (.338, 18 stolen bases) and the ever reliable Darryl George (.329 and seven home runs).
The Aces pitching is more than up to the challenge, but I’m not convinced their hitting can back them up. Mind you, Melbourne’s bats have proved me wrong more than once…
It will be a great game full of key moments and high tension. Do not miss it!